01 Feb The Cavalcade Of Cool Smart Home Technologies Marches On

With the Consumer Electronics Show now (finally!) in my rearview mirror, it’s time to provide some commentary on another group of interesting smart home products that have caught my eye. From digital exercise to a new smart speaker to a cool new e-bike startup, there’s something in this column for all consumers.

Activ5: a different type of digital health smart solution

The new Activ5 smart fitness solution. ACTIV5

With so many digital fitness devices focused on tracking your steps, calories burned, and other cardio-related metrics, Activ5 stands out from the crowd. Activ5 is an innovative palm-sized device that provides workouts and strength training in a portable, puck-like form factor, via various isometric, squeezing exercises. I could see this device being particularly useful during the winter, when it might be challenging to get to a gym, or when traveling. Activ5 pairs with your phone via Bluetooth, and runs on a single AAA battery that should last between 6 and 12 months. The $120 model that I tested includes a convenient mobile phone stand, the product’s Coaching App, games, and a fitness towel.

Upon Bluetooth pairing, you’re ready to go with the product’s isometric exercise regimen. Because the Activ5 is wholly focused on short, 5-minute stationary and isolated exercises, the user can perform them anywhere and anytime (even on a plane). I particularly liked the accompanying Coaching App, which features more than 100 seated, standing, and advanced fast and low impact workouts. The Activ5 app also personalizes over 100 workouts to each individual’s fitness level, monitors progress, and even allows users to exercise while playing several fun games.

In short, the Activ5 is the perfect exercise device for people who have busy schedules, travel frequently, and may not be able visit a traditional gym on a regular basis. It also has appeal for senior citizens and people with disabilities. The affordable Activ5 ushers in a new class of smart digital heath devices, with the potential to profoundly impact users’ health and well-being.

Legendary Klipsch gets into the smart digital speaker market with The Three

Klipsch’s The Three smart speaker solution. KLIPSCH AUDIO TECHNOLOGIES

Founded in 1946, Klipsch Audio Technologies enjoys a reputation for great sounding loudspeakers, high fidelity sound systems, public address solutions, home theater systems, and even personal computer speakers (particularly in the gaming market). For me, it wasn’t an earthshaking surprise when Klipsch announced The Three—a new digital speaker featuring room-filling acoustics (an area that Klipsch speaker technology traditionally is known for), hands-free Voice Control with integrated Google  Assistant functionality, a stylish modern design, and the ability to operate in a wireless, multi-room ready configuration.

While The Three speaker is not new (it was introduced in early 2017), the company announced at CES 2019 that it would add Google Assistant functionality to its As I’ve said before, the sheer variety of digital assistant speakers on the market can be daunting. Recognizing this, Klipsch smartly does not attempt to position The Three (which has a MSRP of $499) as a low-cost offering; instead, it portrays The Three as a stationary home unit with second-to-none audio fidelity, that can be used as a whole home entertainment solution with multiple products in different rooms.

The Three wirelessly connects to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth and is easily configured using the Google Home App. The Three features a fresh, industrial design (Klipsch dubs its “mid-century modern”) that makes it completely suitable for placement in a living room, study, or bedroom. While The Three is completely AC-powered and does not utilize a battery, its Bluetooth functionality allows users to stream music directly to the speaker (as well as the option to connect The Three to other Google Assistant-based speakers for immersive multi-room sound support). Of all the speakers I’ve tested, including the Apple  HomePod, I found The Three to have the highest volume capability without any noticeable distortion—a  consequence no doubt of its two powerful 2.25” full range drivers and integrated 5.25” long-throw subwoofer.

While you can certainly buy speakers for less than The Three’s $499 MSRP, it’s a great choice if you want excellent audio quality and one of the better-looking speaker designs on the market. Throw in the added usefulness of the Google Assistant capability, and it’s almost a no-brainer.

New gaming peripherals from Thrustmaster. THRUSTMASTER

Thrustmaster gaming peripherals shows that the smart home can be fun too

I spend so much time covering smart home products that sometimes I lose sight of the pure “fun” dimension that companies like Thrustmaster have specialized in for years. Since 1990, Thrustmaster has specialized in high quality peripherals for console and PC racing games and flight simulations.

Simply put, nothing makes a racing or flight simulation game more thrilling and immersive than on a “hands-on throttle and stick” setup (known as HOTAS to gaming aficionados). While this class of peripherals have been around for years, I suspect the growing interest in virtual reality is expanding consumer desire for immersive experiences beyond that of a conventional gaming controller or gamepad.  The Thrustmaster T1600M, priced at $150, is a USB-based HOTAS that is compatible with Windows 10 games and Xbox One games. The T1600M FCS HOTAS includes separate twist-enable stick and thrust controllers, with scores of action buttons that facilitate almost cockpit-levels of control.

If flight simulation doesn’t interest you, Thrustmaster’s TX Racing Wheel (Leather Edition) may be right up your alley. Priced at $470, the TX Racing Wheel is a next-generation force feedback racing simulator for the Xbox One and the PC. It includes a detachable leather 11” wheel (so that it can be mounted on a desk) and a 3-pedal footpad. This kind of setup gives you the type of immersive experience at home that you historically could only get in an arcade like Dave & Busters. Thrustmaster’s peripherals have a reputation for extreme durability (something incredibly important since kids will be playing with them for hours). Additionally, more advanced gamers can adjust the buttons for customized play. These devices are fun for the entire family and are compatible with a host of PC and Xbox One games.

Other thought-provoking items on my radar 

Rayvolt’s e-bikes feature a throwback design. RAYVOLT

Before the holidays, I got an opportunity to spend a day with a new e-bike startup called Rayvolt at its Vancouver distribution offices. During this brief visit, the Barcelona-based company impressed me with its decidedly unconventional approach to the rapidly growing e-bike market. The e-bike category has experienced strong growth over the past several years. In fact, according to Statista.com, global sales of e-bikes are expected to reach nearly 43 million units by 2023. Advances in battery technology and motor efficiency have made e-bikes ideal for both urban and suburban consumers clamoring for faster and environmentally-friendly ways to commute to work. The health benefits are an added bonus.

With this type of market growth, scores of new companies (even legacy bike companies like Trek) are jumping into the fray. Rayvolt’s line of e-bikes have a definitive look that sets them apart from the fairly homogenous pack, taking its design inspiration from the legendary era of motorcycling: the early 1900s Indian Motorcycle, the 1960 Café Racer, and the 1970 Beach Cruiser. It’s a look that is simultaneously sentimental and timeless, and won’t scare users away (unlike some of the more futuristic-looking e-bikes).

While its e-bike lineup is certainly eye-catching, Ravvolt is also no slouch from a technology standpoint. It’s one of the few e-bike brands that provides “smart” Bluetooth connectivity, with its intuitive EIVA app that it developed to monitor essential specs (e.g. speed and distance left on current battery charge), pedal assistance, music playback, and GPS access.

The company is still building out its distribution network in the United States so its product line is only available in select markets. Rayvolt is planning a press and dealer event in Barcelona in late March, where I will get an opportunity to spend time with their product and design teams, and the company’s founder, Mat Rauzier. I look forward to doing a deeper dive on Rayvolt to understand its marketing strategy and vision. Still, the early signs are that it’s doing some intriguing work to separate itself in a very crowded e-bike market.

Finally, if you’re interested in receiving data-driven intelligence and insights about the smart home market, I strongly encourage you to sign upfor Plume IQ, a monthly online newsletter that made its debut this month. Plume IQ is published by Plume, one of the leading Adaptive Home WiFi technology companies in the world. The company is uniquely positioned to provide interesting data-based trend and intelligence information, culled from the over 100 million connected devices managed in the Plume Cloud. Few companies have that kind of cloud-based user device knowledge “heft” in the smart home to deliver credible (and interesting) observations.  For example, the just-released newsletter postulates that Apple’s device popularity may actually be decreasing—Plume member households’ use of Apple products declined by 12% in the second half of 2018, compared to growth in devices from Amazon , Samsung Electronics , and Google during the same period. It will be interesting to see what other ecosystem trends the company shares via Plume IQ—it’s worth putting on your monthly reading short list.

Wrapping up

I continue to be impressed with the useful, innovative smart home solutions that cross my radar screen on a regular basis. Over the next few weeks, look for commentary on an interesting new consumer DNA test, a discrete tracker for children or pets, and a very interesting pint-sized “smart” robot. Stay tuned.